Archive for the ‘pasta’ Category

I found a great recipe for vegetable and cheese cannelloni a few weeks ago and it called for fresh ricotta. Not wanting to hunt all over for the expensive and elusive fresh ricotta (quite different and better than the ricotta you can find in any grocery), I decided to make my own. By the way, I will provide the cannelloni recipe another day. It’s great.

There are many internet and you tube resources for making various cheeses and I looked over many of them. The simplest method required only whole milk, an acid, either vinegar or lemon juice, and salt. Some recipes called for the addition of a little heavy cream for extra flavor and, well, “creaminess”. I had everything on hand so I gave it a go. (Note: The resulting cheese from this recipe is more like an Indian paneer than true ricotta, but it works perfectly in recipes calling for ricotta and it’s delicious on its own.)

For safety reasons, the milk needs to be heated to at least 185 degrees, Fahrenheit. I poured the whole milk into a heavy-bottomed stainless steel soup pot to which I added a cup of heavy cream and a tablespoon of salt. Using a candy thermometer attached to the side of the pot, I slowly heated the mixture, stirring nearly constantly, until the milk simmered, steamed and reached 190-200 degrees. For a gallon of milk, this took about 15 minutes on my electric stove. At that point, I turned off the heat, and stirred in 6 tablespoons of lemon juice. Rather quickly, the curds and whey began to separate.

After 5-10 minutes it was time to strain away the whey. There are a few easy ways to accomplish this without buying any cheese-making aparatus or using yards of folded over cheesecloth.  I find the easiest way is to use a man’s cotton or linen handkerchief, clean of course, and rinsed with water, placed over a medium sized colander or strainer. I have also used a #4 coffee filter in a strainer, but it doesn’t hold a lot. The handkerchief is at least 12 inches square and easily fits in my large colander with the corners hanging over the rim of the colander.

Whichever straining method is used, you must place the strainer over a bowl large enough to catch the hot whey. You will have much more whey than cheese and if your bowl isn’t large enough to hold it all, you will need a second bowl close by. You can also put the colander in the sink and let the whey go down the drain. (Remember that the curds and whey are very hot.) Carefully pour the contents of the pan into the colander or strainer. At this point, you can let it stand to complete the draining away of the liquid. This can take 30 minutes or so, depending on how dry you want the curds. You can hurry the process by bringing up the ends of the handkerchief, twisting them around to force the cheese to release more liquid. The ball of cheese will be hot for quite a while, so be careful if you use your bare hands to squeeze out the liquid.  Once the draining is complete, you can scrape the cheese off the cloth and into a container. I usually let it cool an hour or so on the counter before refrigerating it.

A gallon of milk will produce about 2 cups of cheese. Of course you can always make a smaller amount. If you don’t need that much for a specific recipe, the rest of the cheese can be flavored with some chopped herbs for a savory cheese spread for bruschetta or any other bread. You can also make a sweet cheese spread by adding honey; this would be good on  biscuits.

With no preservatives, the cheese must be refrigerated and used within 3 or 4 days. If you have milk that is nearing it’s expiration date, this is a great way to avoid wasting it.  I have saved some of the whey and used it as the liquid for baking bread. It can also be used in soup recipes.


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Well, I guess if you have one noodle it’s lasagna; if you have two or more, it’s lasagne. And you’re one happy camper. Same with “spaghetto” or “spaghetti”. No one ever prepares “spaghetto”.

Anyway, that’s what I made for dinner last night, with an “a”. I had some leftover meaty spaghetti, with an “i”, sauce and all the ingredients necessary for that delightful Italian specialty lasagna. So, I was good to go.

Thank God for whoever let the world know about using dry, uncooked lasagna sheets. I suppose it should have dawned on me at some point that it isn’t necessary to bring a huge pot of salted water to boil, drop in the pasta, time it carefully so the pasta doesn’t overcook (and then fall apart as one is trying to manhandle it into submission and into the baking dish), cool the individual sheets without burning one’s fingers, etc., etc., etc. Anyway, God bless the unboiled lasagna innovators every one,whoever they are.

My local “Foodtown” grocery store makes a mean hot Italian bulk sausage. I picked up about one third of a pound of that, a few slices of Genoa hard salami, and used about 10 thin slices of pepperoni I had in the frig. As the sausage was browning on the stove, I minced the pepperoni and salami and added them to the skillet after I removed the rendered fat from the sausage. With the ground beef that was already in the leftover spaghetti sauce on hand, I knew I had enough of a meaty base for the lasagna.

The package of Barilla “no-boil” lasagna has a recipe on the back.  That’s the basic recipe I follow, adding a few things here and there as I see fit. I use lowfat ricotta, about moreParmesan than they call for, adding another 1/4 cup on the top over the last layer of mozzarella.

I usually add cooked spinach to the cheese and egg mixture, sometimes chopping a couple handfuls of fresh spinach and microwaving or sauteing it and squeezing as much moisture as I can out of it before adding it to the mozzarella.  Other times, if I have planned ahead, I use leftover creamed spinach or spinach souffle (about 1 cup) instead of fresh.

To make more of a vegetable lasagna, I add some grated or minced carrots, zucchini, or even a handful of frozen peas, sprinkling them between the pasta layers in no particular order. It’s kind of a random thing. I like to look at it as an art!

If you can’t find the Barilla recipe, here it is. It’s hard to read on the box anyway. I revamped it to make it easier to read. (I have it taped on the inside of one of my kitchen cupboard doors, right above the counter where I make lasagna and occasionally lasagne.

Morgana’s Revised Barilla Lasagna Recipe


16 no-boil Barilla lasagna sheets

52 oz. spaghetti sauce

1/2 lb. ground beef

1/4 lb. Italian sausage

1/4 c. diced hard salami, diced

8-10 thin pepperoni slices, diced

2 eggs

4 c. shredded mozzarella

15 oz. ricotta

1/2 – 3/4 c. parmesan, shredded

Optional vegetables: (any or all)

cooked spinach (squeezed to remove excess moisture) or creamed spinach

handful of frozen peas

1 carrot, peeled and shredded or minced

1/2 med. zucchini, or 1 small, shredded or minced

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Brown ground beef and Italian sausage in a medium skillet. Drain fat. Mix in the salami and pepperoni. Set aside to cool a bit.

2. Mix the eggs, ricotta, 2 cups  mozzarella, and 1/2 cup parmesan. (Add the spinach and any other vegetables.)

3. Spray the bottom and sides of a 9 x 13 x 2 inch baking dish with cooking spray if desired. (If your baking dish is shallower, only make 3 layers instead of 4. I use a Pyrex 9 X 13 pan that is nearly 2 inches deep and it works well.) Spread 1 cup of the sauce on the bottom of the pan.

4. Assemble layers: (BIG HINT: spread each dry lasagna sheet with the cheese/egg/vegetable mixture before laying in the pan. It’s much easier!)

     Layer 1:  4 pasta sheets (spread with 1/3 of the egg mixture)

                       half of the meat mixture

                       1 c. mozzarella

                       1 c. sauce

     Layer 2:   4 pasta sheets (spread with 1/3 of the egg mixture)

                        1 1/2 c. sauce

     Layer 3:    4 pasta sheets (spread with rest of the egg stuff)

                         rest of the meat

                         1 c. sauce

     Layer 4:     4 pasta sheets

                          the remaining sauce

                          last cup of mozzarella

                          1/4 c. parmesan

5. Cover with foil and bake 50 – 60 minutes, 375 degrees F. Uncover and continue baking for 5 minutes more. Remove from oven and let stand for 10 – 15 minutes before serving.


I like to use the no-stick aluminum foil made by Reynolds when baking lasagna. The cheese topping comes right up to the top of my baking dish and might stick to regular foil. With the no-stick foil, I have no trouble at all. It is also heavy enough to reuse to cover the leftovers, if  there are any leftovers.

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Have you ever eaten something in a restaurant and wished that you had the expertise to divine the ingredients, proportions and exact cooking methods used to prepare that dish?  I have, many times, but I lack that expertise. Oh, I’m getting better at the main and obvious ingredients, but sometimes the more subtle flavors escape my naming them. Garlic, I know. Chervil, maybe not.


I remember many years ago being flummoxed by the difference in my homemade salsa and that of our local Mexican restaurant. I knew there was something in the “authentic” salsa that wasn’t in mine. I had the tomatoes, onions, jalapenos, lime juice, salt and pepper, but there was something definitely missing. With a little library cookbook searching (this was ten years before the internet made recipe searches so easy, and the Food Network was a decade away), I found that my missing ingredient was cilantro. I had heard of it, but didn’t realize that it was the taste I was looking for. In Ohio, it was a little hard to find at the time, and I had to wait to make “proper” guacamole and salsa until I had a source for cilantro. I have grown it, but it bolts quickly and requires successive plantings to keep one in cilantro for the whole season and it doesn’t dry well. Now, it is available nearly any time I need it, summer or winter.


Anyway, back to translating what’s on a restaurant plate to a user-friendly recipe to prepare at home. Sometimes, you can use the internet to search for a recipe with the same name as was on the restaurant menu. Other times, you can just use the main ingredients as the search terms. I had good luck a few months ago with that approach when I enjoyed a soup at a local establishment. Once home, and seated at my Mac, I entered the words, “sweet potato, chorizo, spinach” and immediately found the exact recipe used by the restaurant. I wrote about it earlier in this post.



A few years ago, after dining in a Cincinnati restaurant, my daughters and I were eager to devise a method of duplicating what we had eaten. It was a pasta dish with vegetables in a cream sauce. This was an easy one. We named it Café Pasta and have prepared it and elaborated on it several times. I present it to you here and hope that you make attempts at deciphering your own “dining out” experiences so that you too can replicate the experience at home.

 CAFÉ PASTA  –  Serves 2 2 T. olive oil½ c. chopped onion2 garlic cloves, minced1 zucchini, washed and quartered lengthwise, then sliced 1/8 inch thick¼ c. white wine1 c. chicken broth½ c. heavy cream1 c. diced canned tomatoesSalt and pepperGrated or shaved Parmesan cheese for garnishFettucine, linguine, penne, any pasta 

  1. Prepare large pot of water to boil for pasta. Cook pasta according to directions on package.
  2. Heat oil in large skillet. Sauté onion for 5 minutes, then add zucchini and sauté for 5 minutes more, stirring occasionally. Add garlic and sauté, stirring for 1 minute more.
  3. Stir in white wine and cook till nearly evaporated. Then add broth, cook for a minute or two, then stir in tomatoes and heavy cream.
  4. Season with salt and pepper.
  5. Serve cooked pasta with sauce and garnish with grated or shaved Parmesan cheese.


Obviously, this recipe can be altered pretty much as desired. Chicken breasts, either whole or cut in strips, red pepper pieces, chopped fresh spinach – these would be great as additions or substitutions.  Sun-dried tomato bits instead of canned tomatoes would be good, also. For a special treat, try ¼ c. of blue cheese sprinkled into the sauce a minute or two before serving instead of Parmesan.


As another example of an easily adapted restaurant dish, here’s one that my daughter sampled at an Italian restaurant. It had been their “pasta du jour” and she wanted to try it at home. She described it to me and I fiddled with it a little. It could be an easy adaptation of the previous recipe. It had the onions, garlic and olive oil, but no other vegetables. Instead of Parmesan, it had Swiss cheese, something odd for an Italian restaurant, but it works, nonetheless. It was garnished with sliced plum tomatoes, snipped chives (green onions slices will do) and a few grindings of black pepper.


I can’t stress enough to the home cook the value reading cookbooks, watching cooking shows, and surfing through cooking websites and blogs. Just google a few food or cooking terms and have at it. You can pick up a lot of information that will come in handy sooner or later. I could have had great salsa a lot sooner with a little internet surfing. No worries, mate. I have more than made up for it.

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Ever since I was a little girl I have eaten a casserole known as “Johnny Marzetti”. If you are from the Midwest, you know what I mean. It is a casserole made with three main ingredients – ground beef, pasta, and tomatoes of some kind. From here it can go anywhere with each cook adding his or her favorite ingredients. When I was a child, my mother made it with ground beef, onions, noodles, and tomato soup. That was it – no herbs, no exotic vegetables, no mushrooms – and we loved it.

When I started cooking for my own family, I was always (and still am) looking for new recipes, new ways to make old favorites. I found a recipe somewhere for Johnny Marzetti that called for mushrooms mixed in with the beef and noodles and it was topped with cheddar cheese. That was the first time I strayed from my family’s “original” Johnny M. It wasn’t the last.

From there, I started experimenting, adding herbs, sausage, different vegetables with the onion. Some of the variations were great, others, not so great. I finally came up with a “go-to” Johnny M. recipe that is probably the one I make most often, although there are no specific amounts and every ingredient is just eyeballed. It is a great recipe for feeding a crowd as well as a good one for preparing ahead of time. If I have made spaghetti, I use the leftover sauce to make Johnny M. although most of the time I need to add more tomato sauce. If I have made a good spaghetti sauce with carrots, celery, onions, mushrooms and green pepper, the only vegetable that I add would be a couple of big handsful of chopped fresh spinach, or about a cup of cooked, drained and squeezed frozen spinach. Sometimes if I am making creamed spinach, I will make extra and use that in the Marzetti.

For the pasta, I use penne, or rigatoni, or even macaroni, if that’s all I have on hand. I cook that, mix the drained pasta with the sauce ingredients and mix in a little cheese, cheddar to make it authentic, or mozzarella and parmesan if that’s what I’m in the mood for. More cheese goes on top, then it’s into the oven for a half hour at 350, covered, and uncovered for 5-10 minutes to brown the cheese.

A quick Google search gave me the following info from Wikipedia about the origins of Johnny Marzetti. I had forgotten the Marzetti restaurant in Columbus, Ohio, whose owner conceived the Johnny Marzetti idea and named it after her little brother. Marzetti’s is also known for it’s salad dressings which are available in groceries. I never knew the casserole migrated to Panama where it became a great hit among the American emigres living there during the canal management era. There are several recipes available online for the Panamanian versions. One calls for “arturo sauce” of which I was ignorant. Another google search gave me a recipe* for it and it is available online for purchase in jars or cans.

“Johnny Marzetti is a baked pasta dish, or casserole, consisting of noodles, tomato sauce, ground beef, and cheese. Other ingredients and seasonings may be added to adjust the taste. The dish originated in Columbus, Ohio at the Marzetti restaurant, and spread to other parts of the United States as variations of the recipe were published in magazines and cookbooks during the mid-20th century. The dish is still served in Ohio, especially at social gatherings and in school lunchrooms.

Johnny Marzetti also gained a great deal of popularity in the Panama Canal Zone, where it was served at social occasions and on holidays since at least the early WWII era. The Canal Zone version of the dish typically includes celery and green olives, and is almost always spelled “Johnny Mazetti” by Zonians. The importance of Johnny Mazetti to the culture of the Canal Zone was such that most Zonians are unaware of the origin of the dish and are surprised to learn that it did not originate there.”

Here is a recipe from Wikipedia for the Panamanian Johnny Mazetti (no “r”). I am definitely going to try this. Note the suggestion on which wine to use on which day.


1 lb ground beef
1 green pepper, cut fine
1 onion chopped
1 stalk celery chopped
1 large can mushrooms
1 clove garlic
salt & pepper
2 cans tomato soup
1 can tomato sauce
Dash of hot sauce
1 tsp chopped capers
1 can Arturo sauce (recipe below*)
1 bottle chopped stuffed olives
1 pkgs. boiled noodles
1/2 lb grated american cheese
1/4 lb grated swiss cheese
1/4 lb grated mozarella
3 strips bacon fried and crumbled fine
1/4 cup red or white wine (use white wine on odd days red on even)

Cook ground beef; add remaining ingredients except cheese. Simmer slowly until green pepper, onion, celery are tender. Place all ingredients with 1/2 of cheese in casserole or baking dish; sprinkle the top with remaining cheese and crumbled bacon. Bake in 350 oven for 1 hour. Yields 6 – 8 servings. (Johnny Mazetti is better when cooked and then frozen and then reheated so always put some away for rainy day).

*Arturo Sauce
Source: Unknown
Yield: approximately 1 cup
1/4 cups finely chopped mushrooms
1/4 cups water
1/4 cups tomato sauce
1/4 cups soy sauce
1/4 cups cider vinegar
1 tbs. brown sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1 large clove garlic
1/4 tsp. black pepper
Pinch of ginger, nutmeg

Mix all ingredients together.

Compare that with this one from The Chicago Sun-Times.August 19, 1998

Johnny Marzetti
Makes 10 servings

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups chopped celery
1 cup chopped onion
2 green bell peppers, cored, seeded and chopped
1 pound ground beef
1 pound mild or hot Italian sausage
1 (10-ounce) can condensed tomato soup, undiluted
1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste
1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 (7-ounce) can mushrooms, drained
1/2 pound macaroni, cooked and drained
2 cups grated sharp Cheddar cheese

Heat oil in a dutch oven over medium heat. Add celery, onion and green peppers, saute until vegetables are tender and onion is translucent, about 10 minutes.

Remove vegetables from pan. Cook beef and sausage in pan until browned, about 10 minutes, stirring and breaking them up with the back of a spoon. Pour off fat and discard.

Return vegetables to pan. Pour soup, tomato paste, tomato sauce and 1 cup of water over meat-mixture. Add salt, pepper and simmer, uncovered, over medium-low heat for 30 minutes.

Add mushrooms and macaroni, mix well. Spoon mixture into a 9-by-13-inch casserole dish. Cover with cheese. Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for 20 minutes.

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